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Falling review – Viggo Mortensen casts a clear eye on dementia


Source: The Guardian.
Found By: Chrissie
Categories: Falling Reviews


Our thanks to Chrissie for bringing us this stunning review from Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian who makes it his Film of the Week.

Quote:

In the Lord of the Rings star’s powerful debut as a director, Lance Henriksen plays a homophobic father compelled to move in with his gay son

4fallingps.jpg
Image Brendan Adam Zwelling.
© HanWay Films/Perceval Pictures.
Viggo Mortensen is a formidable creative presence in the movies: taking on complex work as an actor with directors such as David Cronenberg and Lisandro Alonso, investing the star capital he earned with his turn as Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy, and doing a workmanlike job as wise-guy driver Tony Lip cured of his picturesque 1960s racism in the egregious Oscar-winner Green Book.

Now he has written and directed his first movie, and it's a really valuable work, beautifully edited and shot, with a wonderful performance by the veteran actor Lance Henriksen: a sombre, clear-eyed look at the bitter endgame of dementia. Mortensen takes a determined walk across the hot coals of family pain; the drama shows how the condition, with its outbreaks of anger and fear, locks the sufferer into disjointed memories that cannot be expressed or made sense of, a mute ecstasy of loneliness. But it erases other painful memories of wrongdoing that, through a mysterious, sickening quantum, get displaced all too vividly into the minds of the grownup children and carers. They are not even allowed the relief of anger, because dementia behaviour has to be forgiven.

Henriksen plays Willis, an ornery, snowy-haired farmer and widower in the cold expanses of upstate New York: he is a lion in winter, or maybe a junkyard dog in winter. Homophobia is the one of his many attitudes that have now come obsessively to the fore because his son John (played with reticent restraint by Mortensen) has come out as gay. Now the old man has just about accepted that he cannot look after himself any more, and has come to stay with John and John's husband, Eric (Terry Chen), in their California home. John's sister, Sarah (a typically strong performance by Laura Linney), stops by with her family for a lunch – which, as Willis yelps and snarls his bigoted insults and sneers, becomes a group martyrdom of tongue-biting silence and subject-changing smiles from the older generation, while the teens are derisive and unafraid.

But a whole past flows beneath this stressed present like an underground stream: that of Willis's memories – and John and Sarah's. Sverrir Gudnason plays young Willis: nervy and insecure with a thwarted need for love that curdles into abuse; Hannah Gross plays his sensitive young wife, who cries at LP records of Chopin; and Bracken Burns plays Jill, the woman for whom he leaves Gwen, a wary stepmother to the resentful and bewildered children.

Gudnason shows that Willis was not always a villain: he wanted to bond with his son (though not his daughter) through hunting, and Willis is thrilled that John shows a talent for it, at least at first. But their relationship deteriorates and Willis gives John a scar above the lip which, worryingly, appears to match an ancient scar of his own. A cycle of abuse? Now John has given up drinking, perhaps because it is a pleasure that only fuels his rage at Willis.

With his memories of the farm and its horses and its vision of frontier masculinity, I think Mortensen has probably absorbed the influence of Larry McMurtry. Tellingly, Willis is shown watching Hawks's Red River, with John Wayne, on TV – and maybe, via McMurtry's script for The Last Picture Show (about Red River), the McMurtry DNA has indirectly arrived at Mortensen's work in the present day. There is real passion and tragedy in these vivid flashback memories, triggered by moods, shapes, sounds. Just occasionally, there is black comedy. Cronenberg has a cameo as a proctologist who has to give the ageing Willis a rectal exam, the cue for all sorts of bad-taste wisecracks about his son's sexual identity. "This is strictly routine," says the doctor. "For you maybe," snaps Willis, supine in his hospital gown.

With some self-effacement, Mortensen has conceded the performer's alpha prerogative to Henriksen. It's the right decision: Henriksen's Willis, in all his self-defeating cantankerous arrogance, is so commanding. But I wondered if Mortensen could or should have shown us more about John, more about what he has gone through to arrive at this strenuously calm, diplomatic unresponsiveness. Could he have broken out more, shown more anger? Either way, this is a very substantial achievement.

****

© Guardian News and Media Limited. Images © HanWay Films/Perceval Pictures.

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‘Falling’: Film Review


Source: Variety.
Found By: Lindi



Thanks to Lindi for the find at Variety.


Quote:

Lance Henriksen gives the performance of his career as an emasculated father facing dementia, but it's writer-director-star Viggo Mortensen who makes the film’s universal themes resonate so strongly.

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Image Caitlin Cronenberg.
© Hanway Films.
By Peter DeBruge

Viggo Mortensen may have three Oscar nominations to his name, but I get the feeling most folks still don't take the guy seriously enough. Maybe they don't realize that, in addition to his acting work, Mortensen is also a painter, a poet, a photographer and a musician. When "The Lord of the Rings" made him rich, he used some of that money to launch an indie publishing label, Perceval Press. And between high-profile projects, he went out of his way to collaborate with European auteurs such as Lisandro Alonso ("Jauja") and David Oelhoffen ("Far From Men"), comfortably acting in languages other than English (he speaks seven).

So what kind of directorial touch should we expect from such a Renaissance man? Will his first feature turn out to be basic and broad, like the meatball chauffeur he played in "Green Book," or more poetic, informed by his work with relatively esoteric-minded art-house helmers? The answer, you may not be surprised to learn, is a little of both. More deeply felt than your typical American debut, "Falling" is unpretentious and perfectly accessible to mainstream audiences. Mortensen's patience, his way with actors and his trust in our intelligence are not unlike late-career Eastwood, which isn't a bad place to be so early in one's directing career.

Drawing on his own upbringing while touching on universal themes of family and loss, Mortensen reimagines the relationship with his parents — doting mother, difficult father — through the protective filter of fiction. In the process, the actor reminds that his best work comes from a place of emotional vulnerability. Dad was clearly a piece of work, portrayed here as a scorpion-tempered patriarch who dominated his family for decades (roughly half the movie takes place in flashback, featuring Sverrir Gudnason as Willis, the tough-love father), growing even more difficult with the onset of dementia (as seen in the present, where Lance Henriksen brings the hellfire).

The film takes place over roughly a week, as Willis leaves his Midwestern farm to seek lodging closer to his son in California — which is like escaping the viper's nest, only to invite the snake back into one's home. Despite being a consistent challenge, Willis isn't a villain, at least not in Mortensen's eyes. His script manages to be tough yet tender while remaining objective enough not to do a "Mommie Dearest"-style hit job on his dad. Selected for the closing-night slot of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, "Falling" feels like a cross between two other Park City premieres of recent vintage: Shia LaBeouf's transparently therapeutic "Honey Boy" and Paul Dano's 1960s-set "Wildlife," in which a bitter divorce serves as the crucible from which an artistic teenager forges his independence.

The movie packs two big surprises: First, Mortensen plays gay, which isn't the case in real life. The choice serves to heighten the conflict between his character, John, and his immigrant father. Second, it gives erstwhile action star Henriksen (Bishop in "Aliens") an unprecedented opportunity to actually act.

Now pushing 80, Henriksen already looked grizzled by the time he hit 40, and that quality — a raw Marlboro Man toughness written on his face and carved into his cheeks — serves the character well, extending to Willis' stubborn cigarette habit. He's similarly unfiltered in his remarks, taunting others with off-color quips about "Negros" and "fairies" and "whores" the way a mean-streak teen tosses cherry bombs, determined to provoke a reaction. "I promised myself I was not going to rise to the bait and engage in another big blowout," John says at one point.

The film doesn't give in to such grudges either, preferring a more oblique approach to revealing the source of the scars left by such parenting. If you don't count Willis' words to his infant son — "I'm sorry I brought you into this world so you could die" — the first sign that he's not the great father young John (Grady McKenzie) idealized comes when slightly older John (Etienne Kellici) overhears his mom (Hannah Gross) on the couch sobbing while listening to a recording of Chopin's Waltz in C Sharp Minor. (Mortensen composed and performed the gentle piano score.)

"Falling" isn't just about father-son dynamics; it's also reflective of Mortensen's relationship with his mother, who died relatively young. While it's a bit simplistic to imply that John, a "momma's boy," should grow up to be gay, it's clear Mortensen appreciates how difficult coming out would be for someone raised by such an authoritarian (pursuing an artistic career may have been similar for him, whereas John went off and joined the Air Force). The way Mortensen signifies John's homosexuality, by unabashedly kissing his Asian American partner (Terry Chen) in front of his disapproving and racist dad, makes no big deal of that identity but speaks volumes about the many off-screen arguments that have brought them to this detente.

Meanwhile, Henriksen portrays Willis as someone who, bitter in his old age, rejects John's help at every turn. It won't take a mental-health professional to recognize that Willis has control issues, which lends an added dimension of tragedy to his dementia. Mortensen elegantly, intuitively weaves past and present throughout the film, inviting just enough ambiguity for us to wonder whose point of view we're getting: Do these flashbacks belong to John, or are they windows into Willis' subjectivity — an attempt by the son to better understand his father?

"Falling" ends with a lovely scene that ought not to be spoiled here. Suffice to say, it pays off a question asked by Willis' adoptive granddaughter (Gabby Velis), revealing another character's final words and what was going through that person's head at the time. Mortensen also carves out a small but impactful role for Laura Linney as John's adult sister, who does her own version of walking on eggshells around the combustible Willis. It took long enough for someone to entrust a part as tricky as this to Henriksen, whose plunge pays off in Mortensen's sensitive hands.

'Falling': Film Review

Reviewed at United Talent Agency, Jan. 17, 2019. (In Sundance Film Festival.) Running time: 112 MINS.

Production: A Perceval Pictures, Ingenious Media presentation, in association with HanWay Films, Scythia Films, Zephyr Films. (Int'l sales: UTA Independent Film Group, Los Angeles.) Producers: Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Curling. Executive producers: Danielle Virtue, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Touche, Stephen Dailey, Peter Hampden.

Crew: Director, writer: Viggo Mortensen. Camera: Marcel Zyskind. Editor: Ronald Sanders. Music: Mortensen.

With: Lance Henriksen, Viggo Mortensen, Terry Chen, Laura Linney,, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross.

© Variety. Images © Sundance.

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Lance Henriksen stars as Viggo Mortensen's difficult father in the latter's directing debut.


Source: The Hollywood Reporter.
Found By: Lindi


Thanks to Lindi for the find from The Hollywood Reporter.


Quote:

"As intelligent and sensitive a directing debut as you'd expect, and a highlight of Henriksen's career."

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Image Falling BTS.
© Sundance.
By John DeFore

Having quietly spent years augmenting his acting work with prodigious output in music, poetry and visual arts (not to mention founding a publishing house that champions other artists' work), Viggo Mortensen finally takes the director's chair in Falling, a masterful family drama taking a compassionate view of a father whose faults are impossible to ignore. Playing the son who must now care for him through bouts of dementia while absorbing his insults, Mortensen co-stars with Lance Henriksen, a beloved character actor who has almost certainly never had such a meaty part — with 250 roles on his IMDb page, one can't claim to have watched them all — and who undeniably rises to the occasion. Sundance attendees shouldn't read anything into programmers' placement of this artful film at the tail end of the schedule: This will be one of the fest's most assured directing debuts, and is sure to move viewers whether or not their own families contain a figure as problematic as Henriksen's Willis Petersen.

We see Willis first as a young man — played by Sverrir Gudnason (Borg vs. McEnroe), who both looks like he could've been Mortensen's father and, as the film weaves through its then-and-now storytelling, captures how genuine paternal pride and love for his wife are poisoned by fundamental emotional flaws.

Bringing his wife Gwen (Hannah Gross) and newborn son home from the hospital, he stands in the kitchen, holds the baby still while Gwen fetches a clean diaper, and bends over to gently say, "I'm sorry I brought you into this world. To die."

Moving to the present, Willis has acknowledged (in an increasingly rare clear-headed moment) that he can no longer maintain the upstate New York farm where he lives alone, having chased two wives away. He's flying to California with his grown son John (we'll meet John's sister, played by Laura Linney, later), and is having a confused episode. Willis believes the plane is his old farmhouse; thinks Gwen is upstairs; and disturbs both passengers and crew. John does his best to calm him, and the film flashes back to one of the moments that cemented his sense of filial duty: Willis, out by a lake with the 4-year-old John (Grady McKenzie), patiently helping him shoot his first duck, then cheerfully allowing him to treat the dead bird like a pet until it's time to cook and eat it.

Mortensen (who also wrote the screenplay) moves back and forth like this throughout — both to gently illustrate Willis' failings as a husband and father, and to suggest how the old man is experiencing the world today. His confusion about facts is easy to understand, but Mortensen and editor Ronald Sanders use frequent glimpses of the outdoors to add dimension to the character's emotional life. There's nothing Malicky about Willis' connection to nature here, but his obvious affinity for its pleasures makes his inability to connect with humans who love him more poignant.

Willis is a homophobe whose son is gay. As he settles into the home John shares with his husband, Eric (Terry Chen), and daughter Monica (Gabby Velis), he relishes needling the two men, allowing himself to forget, say, that Eric's ancestry isn't Japanese. He speaks freely and loudly about sexuality, genially throwing slurs around in a museum or restaurant. He's also given to casually calling his ex-wives "whores." He sees betrayal everywhere; his fantasies of being cuckolded may have been self-fulfilling prophesies, and play out for him in an eternal present tense: Both women have died, but he rants as if they're quietly in the next room, cavorting with the mailman.

Despite his disregard for others' feelings, Willis is able to connect warmly with the couple's daughter, who overlooks his inappropriateness and calls him her friend. All these contradictions and more fit seamlessly into Henriksen's agile, engaging performance; few moviegoers who've enjoyed him over the years will be surprised, but many will resent that we, and he, have waited so long for a role like this.

Mortensen, who reportedly only agreed to act in his film to secure financing, makes John uncommon among the many adults we've watched cope with difficult parents in indie films. He's not self-righteous or comically exasperated, doesn't quietly complain to Eric about his plight, doesn't rise to the bait his father dangles in front of him. He has fought with him in the past, and grown. Now, he lets insults sail by and patiently adjusts plans to suit Willis' capriciousness. Clearly, this is because John is more decent than those of us who might cut our losses with a similar family member. But perhaps it's also because the past is as alive for him as for Willis: Maybe John is still the mop-headed kid who soaked up his father's approval when he aimed that rifle and shot, and whose father said there was no harm in letting him bathe that beautiful dead duck, dry it by the fire and keep it beside him in bed. Falling doesn't transform its emotional landscape into a simple question of rejection or forgiveness. It's comfortable knowing that meanness and affection can exist in the same person, and that tolerance, even when it only flows in one direction, benefits both giver and recipient.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Premieres)
Production companies: Perceval Pictures, Scythia Films, Zephyr Films
Cast: Lance Henriksen, Viggo Mortensen, Terry Chen, Sverrir Gudnason, Hannah Gross, Laura Linney
Director/screenwriter/composer: Viggo Mortensen
Producers: Viggo Mortensen, Daniel Bekerman, Chris Curling
Executive producers: Danielle Virtue, Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Touche, Stephen Dailey, Peter Hampden, Norman Merry
Director of photography: Marcel Zyskind
Production designer: Carol Spier
Costume designer: Anne Dixon
Editor: Ronald Sanders
Casting director: Deirdre Bowen
Sales: Nick Shumaker, Jim Meenaghan, UTA
112 minutes

© The Hollywood Reporter. Images © Sundance.


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Last edited: 17 July 2021 07:44:55